Recent research shows that when people choose a bank service, they are more likely to choose one that promises to secure their data.
For customers, sensitive data protection is even more important than low fees.
Institutions and financial services store high volumes of compromising user data. This includes data such as social security numbers, credit and debit card details, and home addresses. In the wrong hands, this information can lead to stolen identity.
Therefore, when it comes to cybercrime in the financial sector, there is no space for mistakes.
But which cyber threats compromise data security in the finance sector?
Ransomware is a type of malware (malicious software) that encrypts files in an infected system, rendering them useless. Then, it displays a ransom message on the target’s screen, demanding financial compensation in exchange for the key that unlocks the documents.
Without the right key, the victim could lose their data forever. This is also the reason why some companies will pay the ransom — to retrieve their important data.
When a bank is the target of ransomware, this can mean the institution loses access to sensitive data such as patient names, home addresses, bank account information, IDs, or Driver’s license details. It all depends on which part of the system is compromised.
If leaked on the dark web or hacking forums (when the institution doesn’t pay the ransom), sensitive data can lead to identity fraud. What’s worse is that identity fraud is hardly ever a one-time occurrence. With the victim’s sensitive data online, there is a high chance they become repeat targets.
Why is it difficult to prevent ransomware?
Protecting financial institutions against ransomware is challenging. New types of this malware can bypass otherwise well-guarded security systems. Also, high-profile institutions get targeted by ransomware gangs that use more advanced hacking methods.
At the start of June 2023, a major Spanish bank known as Globalcaja, was affected by a ransomware attack. After discovering the threat, the bank released a statement that no sensitive user data was exposed in the incident.
Several branches of the bank were compromised in the security incident.
A ransomware group dubbed the Play was behind this attack.
The cybersecurity that the bank invested in enabled them to mitigate the issue early and prevent both reputational and financial damage from the possible data breach.
Scammers often impersonate banks in their phishing campaigns. Bad actors send emails and SMS texts or make phone calls on behalf of a trusted credit card company. In their 2022 report, the FBI shared that phishing counted more victims than identity and credit card fraud.
When a bank finds out that their services and the visual identity of a company are used for phishing purposes, they can often do, warn their users to be vigilant of such scams.
In May 2023, a man from Montreal shared that scammers stole $13,000 from his bank account. A criminal, impersonating an employee of TD Bank, called the retired teacher and led him to believe that he was helping the bank to uncover a possible thief.
Claiming that there was suspicious activity on the teacher’s bank account, they urged the victim to deposit the money to a criminal’s crypto wallet.
The victim, who normally gets notifications when suspicious activity takes place in his account, believes that the bank didn’t do enough to protect his finances.
Most people think about individual phishing cases like these that have resulted in stolen life savings when considering phishing within the financial industry.
However, when scammers go for the weakest link in cybersecurity – humans – banks can be the targets of phishing as well.
One of the largest phishing scams by far took place within the Belgium bank Crelan in 2026. Scammers impersonate CEOs via email to trick the bank’s financial department into transferring money. Estimated losses of this attack surpass $75 million.
Today, most companies combat phishing with awareness training that teaches the general workforce to recognize social engineering attacks.
Banks also send frequent emails that remind people that they wouldn’t ask them to send sensitive data via email or request it via phone.
Still, phishing threats persevere.
They can be difficult to recognize, especially when the sender impersonates a highly trusted sender, such as a bank official or one’s boss.
Zero Day Exploits
Most security solutions scan the entire attack surface of the company to detect the signs of well-known threats and weaknesses. As with other companies, financial institutions can’t prepare for the threats their security tools can’t detect.
Zero-day vulnerabilities got their name since security teams have “zero days” to fix the flaw that can compromise user data.
In March 2023, Community Health Systems disclosed that the software which was used to transfer documents containing Social Security numbers had a zero-day weakness now known as CVE-2023-0669.
A ransomware group known as Clop exploited this zero-day flaw to obtain sensitive data from more than 130 organizations. All of them used the GoAnywhere file transfer program within their company.
A couple of weeks later, Hatch Bank also disclosed that the same zero-day flaw led to a breach of their system. The bank had to notify 140,000 users whose Social Security Numbers had been exposed in the attack.
The cases are currently under investigation, and many other victims are expected to come forward about the incident.
The majority of cyberattacks are financially motivated. This makes the financial industry itself a logical target for opportunist criminals.
The most damaging cyber threats within the financial industry target customers’ sensitive data. Such incidents can damage the reputation of a financial institution, lead to identity theft for users, and cause major financial harm to the company in question.
Keeping the data private is already at the center of cybersecurity for the financial industry. Start with protecting the system with cybersecurity tools and introducing phishing awareness training for employees.
Investing in cybersecurity saves financial institutions millions that they could lose in potential cyber-attacks that compromise valuable user data.
Working as a cyber security solutions architect, Alisa focuses on application and network security. Before joining us she held a cyber security researcher positions within a variety of cyber security start-ups. She also experience in different industry domains like finance, healthcare and consumer products.